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Looking after workers

Companies need to revisit their values and identify their top cultural challenges in ensuring employee wellbeing in the post-coronavirus world, says an article in MIT Sloan Management Review co-authored by Dr Thomas Roulet of Cambridge Judge Business School.

Woman with headphones in focussing while working on computer and digital tablet in her home office during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has intensified the impact of work on our personal lives and harmed the wellbeing of many employees, so companies need to proactively identify their top cultural challenges in helping workers’ health in the post-coronavirus period, says an article in MIT Sloan Management Review co-authored by Dr Thomas Roulet, University Senior Lecturer in Organisation Theory & Information Systems at Cambridge Judge Business School.

Thomas Roulet.
Dr Thomas Roulet

Companies need to revisit their values to “see if they still hold up in practice after a remote year” and are supporting rather than harming employees wellbeing as most firms transition to hybrid modes of working. With the same focus on their workers’ health, leaders must “leverage this unique moment to reflect on what kind of company they want to lead”, says the article, which outlines several specific steps that organisations can take:

  1. Every manager and team leader has a responsibility to demonstrate commitment to wellbeing, and looking after one’s own well-being (by, for example, taking earned vacation time) shows other team members that managers also value their wellbeing. Role modeling will be critical in the post pandemic world.
  2. Workloads at home must be monitored to ensure that people with childcare or other responsibilities are not overloaded. “Are they serving as a remote-learning classroom assistant? Do they share a living space with interrupting roommates or relatives? Under these circumstances, some employees may not be able to handle their regular workload, which shifts the weight to colleagues.”
  3. Introduce a “bookend” to each working day. Otherwise, the distinction between work and home life is blurred, “leading to a muddle of demands and distractions”.
  4. Collect data through anonymous ‘pulse’ surveys or other means, because survey responses can help identify particular departments in the organisation that require particular support in wellbeing issues.
  5. Actively listen to employees. “Whether this is a staff survey or a supervisor’s honest conversation with their team, it’s time that companies learned to actively listen to their employees – without first assuming what they need – and showing that their concerns have been heard.”
  6. Embed wellbeing in annual or other periodic reviews because this provides a critical moment to hear from employees whether they feel valued, heard and cared for.

“As vaccinations become more easily available and some companies plan their office returns, some people are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” the article concludes. “But, even in the best-case scenario, the pandemic will have left countless employees with mental health scars. Those scars will require swift action and a profound but most importantly strategic rethinking of mental health support provision, creating the right structures at the organizational-level —now, and in the post-pandemic future.”

The article in MIT Sloan Management Review – entitled “How organisations can promote employee wellness, now and post-pandemic” is co-authored by Dr Ben Laker of Henley Business School at the University of Reading and Dr Thomas Roulet of Cambridge Judge Business School.